Gregoire signs executive order to protect state’s shellfish

Governor Christine Gregoire is keeping busy in her last few weeks in office, as she signed an executive order earlier this week aimed at combatting ocean acidification to protect Washington state’s $270 million shellfish industry.

The executive order “underscored the importance of recommendations” from the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. Along with the executive order, the outgoing governor urges the creation of a new research institute at the University of Washington to study the troubling issue.

“A healthy ocean is critical to our health and coastal economies,” Gregoire said. “We have learned that human caused emissions of carbon dioxide are dramatically altering the ocean’s chemistry at an alarming rate. These emissions, mostly resulting from burning fossil fuels, are now threatening our ocean ecosystems. Ocean acidification is yet another reason to quickly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide across the planet.”

Ocean acidification directly affects shellfish’s ability to make their shells, and also creates a ripple effect throughout the ocean ecosystem.

The Blue Ribbon panel was an outgrowth of Gregoire’s Washington Shellfish Initiative. High level scientists are also in agreement with Gregoire and the importance of monitoring this issue for Washington state.

“Nowhere on our planet is a local response to ocean acidification more urgently and immediately needed than here in Washington state,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Preliminary studies referenced in the report show that local sources of acidification are already affecting Puget Sound and Hood Canal. The pH levels in many of Washington’s coastal waterways are much lower than those in the adjacent open ocean. This indicates increasing risk to our shellfish industry, the health of oceans and the wealth of benefits they provide.”

Bill Ruckelshaus and Jay Manning, co-chairs for the Blue Ribbon panel, also stressed the importance of trying to figure out how to correct the imbalance in Washington state’s waters.

“The cost of responding to ocean acidification may be substantial, but it is still far less than the costs of inaction,” said Ruckelshaus. “Responding to ocean acidification will require a sustained effort – there’s no silver bullet solution.”

“Panel scientists tell us that local sources of acidifying pollution exacerbate decreasing pH levels caused by higher and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Manning. “However the relative importance of these local sources – mostly wastewater and stormwater containing nitrates – is not currently well understood. Our most urgent recommendation is to develop a better understanding of the magnitude of these sources, and if they prove to be significant, act immediately to reduce loading from these local sources.”

According to the governor’s office, she plans to reallocate $3.3 million in her upcoming budget proposal to fund priority actions on ocean acidification. That money will be used toward funding shellfish hatchers make short-term forecasts and adapt to increasingly acidic water conditions.

As mentioned already, she’s also proposing the creation of a new institute at the University of Washington to study the issue, especially it’s impacts on native species. The $3.3 million will be pulled from existing taxes collected on hazardous materials, and revenue from leases on state-owned aquatic lands, which includes the sale of geoducks.

Greg Allmain, Federal Way Mirror, 30 November 2012. Article.

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